Brain Grenades

I suffer from depression and anxiety.  One of the most distressing symptoms is the arrival of what I call brain grenades.  These are unwanted thoughts that show up randomly in my mind.  They can be memories of things that trigger a shame response, or projections of my future where everything goes wrong and I end up homeless, or imagining that everyone who “pretends” to like me is actually stabbing me in the back, or memories of failures etc.

The thing about the grenades is they arrive, explode and then I’m left with the emotional destructive chaos.  And what’s worse is that once my brain has lobbed the first one, it’s likely it will keep lobbing them, in random and unrelated ways.   In the first couple of years after my homelessness, I used to cry on my way to work every morning.  Because my brain had decided that driving was a great time to bomb me with grenades.  I finally realized that I could cut the battle out all together by playing podcasts in the car.  Distract my brain and I wouldn’t end up bawling for 20 minutes on the way to work.

Yesterday I was listening to one of those podcasts, called the Happiness Lab.  And it was talking about how avoiding thinking about a thing is much more likely to trigger thoughts of the thing.  And as a related note – avoiding an emotion, makes the emotion come out later in more destructive ways. I had a bit of an epiphany with that information.

You see, I am something of a judgmental cranky pants at work.  I get angry at the errors and bad work that other people do, which ends up on my desk.  This is a new side of me.  Back in the days before my brain imploded and I lost everything, I was generally patient and positive at work.  I always assumed everyone wanted to do a good job and looked at errors as learning opportunities.  But the aftermath of the breakdown seems to have fundamentally changed that part of my personality.  It’s one of the reasons why I reject the idea that I am somehow a better person for having gone through such a traumatic experience.

I am not a fan of emotional experiences and I am always trying to tamp down and avoid them.  And as a result, they spurt out at work when I see errors.  I’ve long been aware that I’m worse about this at the end of the day, as I get more tired, but haven’t been able to figure out a way to not react with anger at these errors and the people who make them.  I think the fact that I try to avoid emotions instead of accepting them is causing my spurts of anger.

I think I need to not focus as much on self control in the moment of the spurt as much I need to be more aware of moments when I am corralling an emotion and refusing to acknowledge it.  That the emotion I avoided feeling hours before is the root of the spurt – and I’m better off just managing it rather than the eruption later.

And even more important – will it also help me eliminate the brain grenades?  I cannot tell you how distressing brain grenades are to me.  I call them that because it often feels like I need to find shelter from the shrapnel and on really bad days I spend most of the time on the verge of tears.

So.  the new plan.  Pay attention to my emotions – allow them to exist in their appropriate time.   I will turn to face the emotion as it is happening, recognize it and accept it without judgement.  Look at it with a bit of detachment.

Hopefully this will be successful.  Because it’s not like I’m aware of all the moments I push my emotions into their boxes.  But we shall see.  Perhaps with more practice, one recognizes them more often.

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Have I ever told you about Matt Brown?

Matt Brown died the other day from ALS.  I was gut punched by the news, although I hadn’t seen or talked to him in 20+ years.  When I think of Matt the word that leaps to mind is Laughing.  Not snickers or giggles or chuckles – screaming laughter.  When Matt was around the world’s absurdity was clear because he showed it to you.  And when Matt laughed, everyone laughed.

Matt was my first openly gay friend.  Mind you he never came out to me. I’m not sure he came out to anyone.  He was flamboyant but it was more than that.  He just lived his life openly and honestly and never curbed himself for anyone.  He talked about his romantic interests like anyone would, he wore the occasional dress on campus (no make up or glamour just the the dress and sneakers), was a very active participant in the campus LGBT groups.  And he did that on a very conservative college campus in the 80s during the un-treatable AIDS epidemic.

How unfair it is that he survived the AIDS epidemic unscathed and was killed by ALS.  It feels like he should have won the medal of survival to 100 for making it out of that nightmare alive.

When Matt graduated he fell in love with Dick, a man nearly twice his age.  They moved in together, had a commitment ceremony, signed all the various contracts that were needed to provide the sort of legal rights that just come part and parcel with marriage.  I was lucky enough to be part of their circle of friendship.  They took me with them on vacation to Maine, rented me one of their apartments, took me to ridiculously priced restaurants and had me over for Lasagna and TV.

When we were in Maine, Matt and I made a daily tortuous and joyful ritual out of going into the Ocean.  It was barely into June and the Atlantic Ocean was ice cold.  It hurt to go into the water.  We would hold hands and scream as each step exposed another part of us to icy water until we finally gathered up the courage to just dunk our entire bodies under the water.  That is the only water I’ve been in, where my body never acclimated itself to the temperature.  It continued to bite the entire time.  So we would try to see who could stand it the longest, generally agreeing to leave together.  We weren’t good at competition.  Dick would watch us from the deck and I’m sure thought we were just insane children.  And I guess we were.

When Matt and Dick broke up, I was heartbroken for both of them.  Looking back from my current age, I can see that a generation gap is a very hard thing to overcome.  They did it with grace and remained friends.  Matt told me he still loved Dick and didn’t think he would ever find anyone else to be that committed to.  I hope he did.  But I don’t know.  His obituary did not mention a husband or partner.  But it did list a whole host of friends who helped him during his illness.  Matt never lacked friends.

He went back to school after the breakup and got his PhD.  He moved to Colorado and taught college.  The last time I saw him he came back to visit and tried to talk me out of getting the gastric bypass I had scheduled.  He had done his research – in a time before the internet was omnipresent – by going to the library.  He explained all the risks and most likely outcomes.  He was worried about me.  But I was determined. Being 400 lbs is miserable in all the ways.   He was right by the way.  On every bit of it.  Not that I regret my choice but it was a far more informed one because he talked to me.  That was who he was.  He challenged my decision with facts that it took effort to find and took on an emotionally risky conversation to do it.  He wasn’t in our friendship just for the laughter.  He was there for the hard things too.

Matt lived a life of integrity.  If he believed something, he acted on it.  In a society where most of us are content to just feel right, Matt lived it.  He used to be a Planned Parenthood escort.  Because he believed women had the right to healthcare and choice.  So he volunteered once a week to escort women from their car to the door in order to ward off the assholes who hung around to hurl insults and worse at the women who came to the clinic.  He did this despite the fact that he had NO DOG IN THAT FIGHT.  Because he knew it was right.

I wonder why I feel so lonely now that he has died.  I hadn’t spoken to him in 20 years.  I think the knowledge that I could pick up the phone and reach him has been stolen and in it’s place is just the void.  Time and space separated us, but Death made the chasm unbreachable.

Timmy is HOME!

Timmy’s Big Adventure is over.  And I’m so grateful.  He’s thinner and dirty and has managed to grow a thick coat in just under 3 weeks, but he’s safe.

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He’s walking around the apartment crying like he’s still lost though.  And Bijou is WAY over him.  She was very worried in the first few days.  Looking out the window constantly.  But I think she quite liked being the center of my attention.

Anyway about an hour ago, my downstairs neighbor called me to say Timmy was eating the food I left out.  I ran down stairs and was told he’d run into the back.  I went there and called and he immediately answered with pitiful cries.  He was under a box truck and just cried and cried like an abandoned baby but wouldn’t come out.

I finally had to sit on the ground next to the truck until he came out and let me grab him.  Well.  I wasn’t going to let him go, but I was sitting on the ground.  An unfit, fat middle aged woman needs all her limbs to get up from the floor but I had my arms full of Timmy.  I’m still not sure how we accomplished it.  Hopefully there aren’t any cameras in the area filming that moment.

Once inside, Bijou began to spit and growl and he just could not have cared less.  He was home and he knew it.  He ate like a little pig and drank a whole lot of water.

I will make an appointment with the vet on Monday.  He’s probably got worms.  Possibly fleas, but I’ve combed him for them and didn’t find any active ones.  But that is easy to manage and I already have the drops.  His asthma is bothering him.  He’s walking around with his mouth just a bit open.

He doesn’t look as thin as I would have expected but when you pet him, he’s just bones now.  Poor thing.  He’s home.  If I ever let him out on the balcony again it will be with a GPS collar.  But i think we will just never go out on the balcony again.  Period.

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Still Missing

My little Tim cat is still not home.  He jumped off the balcony on October 1st.  I’m exhausted from the anxiety and despair.  It’s been a hellish 2 and half weeks.

The last Pawsboost blast I did got no responses.

I’ve put out about 200 flyers.  I’ve walked and called with an open can of cat food.

I’ve got water and food out.

I hear people say – my cat came home 2 months later… But all I keep thinking is Winter is Coming.

I miss him so much.  I can start crying about it just by spending a moment considering what plight he might be in.  Lost, hurt, scared, starved, thirsty…  I’m not particularly functional while I’m worried.  I am on the verge of tears at work quite often.  I’m so tired from lack of sleep that I don’t stay focused.

I want him to be home.  Safe and annoying me all the ways that I love him to.  It feels like as soon as he is home I will be released from the mental hell that I’ve been living in for weeks.

But I can’t help but feel like he won’t be coming home.  That I’ve lost him for always and I don’t even know how I can cope with that.

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Timmy, the Cat, is Lost

He jumped off the balcony Tuesday morning.  And he won’t come when I call.  I hope and honestly believe he is still within 2 houses of this building.  I don’t think he will head toward the busy road.  He’s an anxious cat and doesn’t like loud noises.  Mostly the internet backs me up on this, “unless the cat bolts in a panic”.  So naturally my deeply anxious brain is playing that scenario often.

I’m sure he’s terrified out there and has been in deep regret, but no matter how much I either call or sit quietly he is not showing up.

I’ve been up all night for two nights – going out every couple of hours to walk around and call.  I’ve been leaving work early so I’m around the house more.  I’ve opened canned cat food while standing in the yard and just stood waiting for the smell to call him to me.    Each time I go out but I come back without him and I’m filled with despair.  I can’t stop crying.  It’s awful.

Even Her Calico Highness is worried and looking for him.

I’ve posted flyers and put them on the doors of the homes for half a block.  I posted it on Reddit, Next Door and Pawsboost and my friend put it on Facebook.  I also put him on Pawboost.  I told every kid I see on the street about it.  Kids are the ones outside most and who notice animals.   I don’t know if any of it matters.

He has no skills to be outside.  And worst is that this yard and the one behind belong to a feral cat and I don’t think she’s going to be nice to him.  And might scare him farther away.

I just want him to come to me when I call.  I’m an idiot for not teaching that.  As much or more so than leaving him unsupervised on the balcony.

Why don’t we yet live in an age where the microchip comes with GPS?  It could use body heat for power.  If only I could track him.  If I knew where he is in all the damn brush and debris around here I could catch him.

He’s such a dumb little bastard.  I’m sure he jumped because the damn squirrel who lives on the building was taunting him.  Fucking squirrel.  tim

The Week that Was & The Week that Will Be.

Last week had it’s holes.  I fell into the abyss on Tuesday.  Hard.  And unexpectedly.  I was feeling like I had avoided the usual reaction to my failure to visit with family last weekend.  I refused to wallow in my shame.  On Sunday I got quite a bit done around the house in the Noticeable Improvement Process.  On Monday I had a decent day at work.

And on Tuesday the reaction set in.  Stillness took over.  I called into work, which then feeds even more shame to the depression.

However, routine and a friend saved me.  I walk 3X a week with a friend.  In the mornings before work.  And on Wednesday, I woke up feeling all the weight of the depression but also the standard of early wake up for the walk and the expectation of my friend.  And those two things made me move.  I was not a happy mover but I moved.  And I went to work.

The worst part of depression is how much risk it puts me in for my job.  I’ve already lost one job to it.  Which ultimately led to homelessness.   And I just cannot lose this one.  I feel like there isn’t another opportunity for me after this.

So.  Despite Saturday being a black hole of misery and stillness, today will not be.  I will move.  The primary thing I’m going to do is go to the Farmer’s Market and buy some tomatoes and corn.  Because that will give me pleasure all week.  It also will make me get dressed.  Which I find is key to me getting stuff done.

I’ve decided I want to do a journal.  Geared around my theme for life.  Better.  That’s it.  Just everyday – make it better than it was.  Whether it’s my environment, my routine, my job, my health.  Whatever.  Better.  Not perfect.  Not 100%.  Better than it was.

It’s easy to think I’m going to do that – but I find it’s also easy to forget.  If I journal then I hold myself accountable.  I listen to a podcast called Cortex that talks about living life around a theme and using a journal.  I think I will use their journal solution.  So.  That’s the plan.

Puppet on a String

I was supposed to visit with family this weekend and did not.  Cousins were in from out of town.  Another cousin, local, is recovering from a liver transplant.  It was a good time to touch base and connect with family.

I skipped it.  This is a side effect of my depression.  I isolate.  Also any change in routine is hard for me to do.  It’s like I’m riding in a rut and I have to jump over the ruts to get into a new path.  The problem is that the ruts are deep because my brain’s preference is for the rut I’m in.  And so what appears to be a simple change is actually the mental equivalent of an Olympic high jump for me.

It’s the same thing that keeps me still when I can’t seem to get myself moving.  When I can’t get out of bed at all.   But in those times it’s more of a jump across a chasm in the dark.

I use these metaphors because it helps me to remember that my thoughts and actions are not my depression.  My thoughts and actions are often a result of my depression and often feed it in a self sustaining loop of yuck.  But they are just the manure and fodder not the cause, not the disease.

This is why therapy works.  Because if you starve depression of it’s fodder by changing your thought patterns and actions it recedes.  It’s not gone.  I’ve pretty well accepted that it will never be gone, but if I can gain control over actions and choices,  I’m no longer a marionette enslaved to the depression’s pulled strings.

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Photo by Min Thein on Pexels.com

This weekend I let it pull my strings.  I know why.  I was tired on Friday night and when I’m tired my ability to use will power to change course is weak at best.  Saturday I let myself sit still for too long.  And the rut got deep.  Then I let my thoughts justify the stillness and feed the depression.  And in the end,  I didn’t do a thing that matters.

This morning it is easy to feed the depression all my shame and self loathing over not visiting my family.  But that just gives the depression more fodder.  So instead I’m writing this post to remind myself – this is how this happened, this is how to manage it.  Don’t feed the depression.  Move Forward.  Focus on the movement.  Don’t sit still and wallow in the manure.

Taxes – I guess they are necessary, but Damn.

So, about a month ago, I discovered I’m not paying my taxes.  I was a bit startled as it appears to me that my checks are significantly reduced by various forms of governmental dipping.

Also surprised because I filled out the apparently necessary forms and what-nots that are required, because removing money from your check is not a sufficiently painful process and so once a year we all have to pour alcohol on the wound by filing forms.

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But despite enduring these things and finding at least nominal comfort in the  necessity of these monies being contributed to civilization maintenance purportedly done by the government; I have found that my city has an income tax.  But I have never had to fill out a City Tax Form.  I never knew it existed. Damn online tax filing services.

Also, why the fuck hasn’t the City been writing me nasty letters?  No wonder there are potholes with active fishing in this city.  No one is collecting the damn taxes.

My employer is not removing the tax from my check because I don’t live where I work.  Despite this being common in the US, it makes it complicated that I live in one City, State and work in a different City, State.

This has been happening for 6 years.  I’m not saying it’s terrifying, but I have been chased by bears with briefcases in my dreams fairly regularly since I realized this.  chased by bear

After doing some reading of the not entirely detailed description of these taxes, I am hoping, deeply, that the taxes I paid to the city where I work will be reciprocal to where I live.   Particularly because the taxes where I work are higher than where I live so in that case I owe nothing.

This would definitely be the case if I worked and lived in the same state.  It would also be the case if this was state tax.  But it’s City Tax in different states and reading up on that situation makes it just unclear enough to make me want to cry helplessly in a corner.  nononono

But I am happily in possession of a small amount of clear brain right now.  And so tomorrow I am taking the day off and making sure I don’t owe the city hundreds or thousands of dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest.   City Hall, here I come.

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Releasing Myself

I have been on the struggle bus for a year.  My brain, despite  various medication adjustments, just doesn’t want to climb out of the Abyss.   My focus sucks. Brain Grenades are a constant.  Stillness is prevalent.   My routines are the only thing I’ve held on to.

But those routines don’t keep the chaos at bay.  And when you ignore everything but cat care and taking out the kitchen garbage – the rest of the home slowly dissolves.

Every weekend I am sure I’m going to implement some improvement to my living space that will make it less chaotic.  Because I know that this mess is feeding my depression.  And every weekend, I don’t get out of the bed.  And things continue on, slowly creeping down the tube.

A few months ago I convinced my boss to give me remote access to the work systems so I could do some work at home.  It seemed like that would make certain stressful days less stressful.  The idea that I could always finish it at home seemed like a thing that would make me leave work on time.  And that would make me feel more mentally healthy.

But that just made a new thing to add to the pile of things I SHOULD do when I my brain was stuck in stillness and my body was stuck in the bed.

Then 3 weeks ago I splurged on a desk chair because the one I had was deeply uncomfortable – possibly due to having a distinct lean and no arms.  Curbside pickups have these issues.  I bought a new one at Staples.  They shipped it and I wasn’t home, so it was sent to an alternative location down the street from me.  No big deal.  Except when I picked it up – the box was just big enough and just heavy enough to be hard to handle.  If it had been smaller, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  If it had been lighter I could probably have managed – the but the combo made it hard.

The box lived in my car for 2 weeks as various friends offered to come over and help.  But that meant the apartment needed to be cleaned before I could accept their help.  So I refused.  I finally bought one of those clever straps with handles.  I had it for a week and still didn’t drag the damn box upstairs.

Then finally – last Thursday – I just did it.  And, like all such things, it turned out to be much easier than I expected.  The strappy handle was a miracle – heavily recommend to anyone.

But then the next obstacle – unbox and put together.  The plan was to do it on Saturday.  Nope.  Then Sunday.  I tricked my brain on Sunday by going to the Farmers Market.  It made me get dressed and get moving.  Once my brain was in that mode, I managed to unbox the chair.  But not assemble it.  So now – the apartment was not just fuzzy with cat hair – it was strewn with cardboard, plastic wrap and chair parts.  I went to bed depressed.

The next morning I was feeling a bit better.  Perhaps the small step had helped me.  Then my friend Chad started to text me.  Chad does more in an hour than I have done in the last year.  I wish I was as competent at ANYTHING as Chad is at every damn thing.  As we bantered over text and he shared his various chores I began to get a less heavy feeling about all my tasks.  And so I put together the chair.

I felt like a DIY god.  I get that feeling every time I have to assemble something and manage to do it.  I actually like assembling these sorts of things.  They are geared toward my skill level – ie none.  And yet somehow I manage to have a fully functional chair or whatever – when I’m done. ellie-front

I took that accomplishment energy and threw it into doing a bit of noticeable improvement to my apartment – vacuuming and sweeping.  I pulled together a couple of loads of laundry but was defeated by a neighbor doing it when I took it down.  I was going to do it this morning and completely forgot until I typed this.  My brain.  And then spent 4.5 hours doing work from home.  So I have a head start on what promised to be 2 days of busy busy work.

Today I woke up felt so much less of the weight on my shoulders.  The constant low level anxiety dreams still exist.  But the waking up was much less like the world was ending.  And day itself seems perfectly doable.

Sometimes clearing one obstacle, even if it’s not an obstacle you think is causing your problems, clears the path to a better place.   I hope this is path lasts a good long time.  It would be nice to get to a better place and stay for awhile.  emotions-1034916_960_720

 

Ripe Green Tomatoes

I have found manna from heaven and it ripe green tomatoes.  One of my friends that usually goes halvsies with me on tomato plants in the spring went to the farmers market and bought a couple of green tomatoes to try.  Ripe Green.  Not the unripe kind you use for fried green tomatoes.

She gave me one.  I ate it that night and it was like the heavens opened up.  So perfect.  Sweet.  But with plenty of tang.  It was just perfect.  I had sliced it for a sandwich.  I walked back into the kitchen and ate the last two slices over the sink like cookies.

So yesterday I went to that same farmers market with the intention of clearing them of all of the green tomatoes they would sell me.  But the booth that sold them didn’t bring any that day.  However it’s also a local farm with a store  and she thought I would find some there.  So I drove there.  Sold the last one that morning.

No idea when there would be more said the disinterested teenager.  Also did not know the name of the variety.  Teenagers be damned to hell.  Take an interest!!!  I have green tomato needs.

My friend said she would ask the owner the next time she goes by.  Because one thing is certain.  I’m growing this tomato next year.

I’ve done some research and it looks to me like it’s possibly called Green Giant.  Or Aunt Ruby’s German Green.  Or possibly Tennessee Green.  I have no idea.  And it matters.

So my week long craving for more of that tomato is thwarted.  Possibly for the next year if it is a determinate tomato.  Sigh.

I’m being forced to eat plain old red tomatoes.  I’ve had 5 in the last 24 hours.  I’m gorging on them.  I do love fresh ripe tomatoes.  Salt, Pepper and Jalapeno powder.  Jalapeno powder is a recent addition for me.  I recommend.  I don’t do much because I am not a fan of pain.  I’m OK with warm.  But the flavor is such a good pairing with tomato.  Hard Recommend.  You can also do Cayenne, but I like the flavor the jalapeno.

Anyway.  It’s been a hard week and this weekend I think I’m swinging back around.  Hopefully.  Maybe tomatoes are a treatment for depression?  Someone should do a study.